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County areas lead population growth

MANATEE — Manatee County’s population growth slowed down last year but it still remained concentrated in the county’s unincorporated areas, according to estimates released today.

Lakewood Ranch, Parrish and other unincorporated areas gained an estimated 1,368 people from July 1, 2007 to July 1, 2008, while Manatee’s six municipalities grew by an estimated 267 people during the same period, the U.S. Census Bureau said.

Almost all of the municipal growth was in Bradenton, ending two years of population declines in Manatee’s largest city.

“That’s a positive sign,” Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said Tuesday when told his city grew to an estimated 53,513 inhabitants. “We’ve been hard-pressed lately to find a positive sign in this economy, so we’ll take it.”

Poston surmised many of Bradenton’s newest residents are in the Palma Sola Trace development being built along 75th Street West, with the remainder scattered throughout the city. Bradenton had no residential annexations that could have accounted for the population increase, he said.

Palmetto’s four-year growth streak ended last year as its population fell to an estimated 14,284 residents — a loss of 17 people.

Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant questioned the estimate, saying she’s seen no direct evidence that her city is losing people.

“That’s such a small number that it’s probably within the range of error,” she said. “I can’t believe it’s gone down. I’m having a hard time understanding it. It’s probably just an aberration.”

The island cities of Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach grew in population from 2007 to 2008, but not by much: Anna Maria added two people, Bradenton Beach gained 13 and Holmes Beach grew by six.

Longboat Key’s Manatee County portion dropped by exactly one person, and by five people overall in the town that straddles the Manatee-Sarasota county line.

Overall, Manatee’s population grew by one-half of one percent to reach an estimated 315,766 people last year — the lowest rate of growth in nearly a decade. More than 237,000 of those lived outside city limits.

Manatee’s growth slowdown was mirrored throughout Florida, as fewer people moved to the Sunshine State from the Midwest and Northeast because of the housing crunch and economic recession, demographers said.

The new figures show just how far Florida has fallen out of favor: No Florida cities were among the nation’s 10 fastest-growing, the first time that’s happened since 2002.

Texas, North Carolina and Colorado now are leading the growth among cities, the Census said.

And larger cities in the Midwest and Northeast — Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Minneapolis/St. Paul, among them — are seeing a population resurgence as migration slows to far-flung suburbs and residential hotspots in the South and West.

Demographers said they expect that emerging trend to continue, setting the stage for much more modest growth in Florida’s foreseeable future.

“Suburban sprawl may not be dead, but it’s certainly on hiatus,” said Mark Mather, associate vice president of the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau.

“Even if the economy recovered tomorrow, it might take a while for people to change their behavior. Attitudes just don’t change overnight.”

The census figures also show:

n Miami’s population grew by 6,317 people, the most of any Florida municipality.

Tampa added 5,404 people and Jacksonville gained 4,301 to remain the state’s most-populous city.

n The three Florida cities losing the most people all were in Pinellas County: St. Petersburg (706), Largo (532) and Clearwater (521).

n New Orleans led all U.S. cities with an 8.2 percent population increase as it continues to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.